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Understand Leveled Reading

You may be told by your child’s teacher that he is a specific reading level. Leveled reading uses various assessment tools to determine how well your child reads, and then matches her to books that are challenging enough for her to make progress. Books are categorized into levels of difficulty, which is how a perfect match, based on ability, can be made. There are several leveled reading systems utilized in schools across the country. Here are three of the most common:


  • Guided Reading Level (GRL)
    At the beginning of the school year, your child will sit one-on-one with his teacher and read from a benchmark book (one considered standard for the grade). He may also be asked to answer questions about the text or retell the story. His teacher may use a Reading Record to calculate any oral reading mistakes and to help her determine a suitable guided reading level and books for your child. Under GRL, books run from A to Z, with A being easiest.
  • Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)
    Similar to GRL, at the beginning of the school year your child will read a benchmark book to the teacher and then retell the story. The teacher then scores your child on a range of skills, such as accuracy of reading, comprehension, and fluency. This system starts with level A, for the easiest books, and then switches to numeric levels, running from 1 to 80.
  • Lexile
    Your child may receive a Lexile measure in one of two ways: by taking a school-administered SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) test, specifically designed to generate a Lexile measure of reading ability, or by taking a standardized reading test that converts the results to a Lexile measure. Lexile also evaluates books for difficulty, with levels ranging from 200 to 1700+ for advanced readers.


To see how these three systems compare, you can download this chart (PDF).
To watch a video explaining lexile levels, click here: Lexile Reading Levels Video.
To find books for your child at the correct lexile level, go to this site: http://www.lexile.com/fab/

Most children are actually taught by the teacher at their instructional levels. This is the level at which the teacher "stretches" the student in his thinking and reading. The independent level, on the other hand, is the level at which the child can read easily and with pleasure. Reading scores generally refer to instructional levels.


  1. The child's independent reading level is usually determined from books in which he/she can read with no more than one error in word recognition in each 100 words and has a comprehension score of at least 90 percent. At this level the child reads orally in a natural tone, free from tension. His silent reading will be faster than his oral reading.
  2. The instructional reading level is usually determined from books (or other material) which the child can read with no more than one word-recognition error in approximately 20 words.  At this level, the child reads orally, after silent study, without tension. Silent reading is faster than oral reading. The student is able to use word-recognition clues and techniques. He reads with teacher help and guidance. This is the "stretch" level. With the right materials and purposeful reading, he makes maximum progress.
  3. The frustration level is marked by the book in which the child obviously struggles to read. Errors are numerous. The child reads without a natural rhythm and in an unnatural voice. No child should be asked to read at his frustration level, but the teacher needs to know that this level does exist for him.
  4. The probable capacity reading level is shown by the highest book in a given series in which the child can understand 75 percent or more of what he hears when the book is read aloud to him. He should be able to answer questions and to use properly many of the special words used in the selection. He should be able to use in his own conversation or discussion some language structures comparable to those used in the selection.


For more information about reading levels, explore these resources: